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Richard "88 Fingers" Turner, Jr. / Blog

Oscar Peterson

I will start a series of biographies of my primary musical influences. I begin these with one of the most prolific and skilled keyboard players in jazz history,Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson was born August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His parents were immigrants from the British West Indies and Virgin Islands. His father, Daniel Peterson, was boatswain on a merchant ship when he met Olivia John in Montreal, where she worked as a cook and housekeeper for an English family. Daniel gave up the sailing work and began working as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He and Olivia married and stayed in Montreal as their family grew. Oscar was the fourth of five children. Their father insisted that they all learn a musical instrument, and Oscar began to study the trumpet. A childhood bout of tuberculosis forced a fortuitous switch to the piano, under the tutelage of his father and his older sister, Daisy. The performance career of Oscar Peterson began while he was still a young teenager in high school, as pianist with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montreal. After a few years with the Orchestra, he formed his own trio, the first in a format he maintained throughout his lifelong career. With the trio, he quickly gained fame and popularity throughout Canada. His appearances at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal were broadcast live on the radio. In 1949 impresario Norman Granz heard one of those broadcasts, went to the Alberta Lounge and enticed Mr. Peterson into making a surprise guest appearance with Granz’ all-star “Jazz at the Philharmonic” at Carnegie Hall later that year. Leaving the audience awestruck, Oscar joined JATP in 1950 as a full-time touring member. He formed a piano-bass duo with Ray Brown as well, and began recording for Granz at the same time. He also added Barney Kessel as the first of the guitarists with whom he would create trios, returning to the group format he loved. Oscar Peterson has an extensive discography of his trio and quartet recordings, as well as his recordings with many of the other jazz greats. His varied albums include recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Joe Pass. Oscar Peterson passed away at his home on the morning of December 23, 2007. His legacy lives on through his music.

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